The whole concept of patriotism, even a relatively modest patriotism as shown by flying the flag, or wearing a small lapel pin, seems to be under attack. I thought it appropriate to start a discussion of Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy in America by foregrounding that quote about love of country and religion above the book plug and blog roll.
De Tocqueville made a visit to the U.S. in 1831, ostensibly to study the American prison system, and he and his companion Gustave de Beaumont did in fact submit a report on the prison system to the French authorities, but he also studied the practice of American democracy. His volumes on American government appeared in 1835 and 1840. While he is among the few sociologists who are actually readable, he is also one of the most quoted and the least read.
De Tocqueville took the American town meeting as an exemplar of American democracy in action. The town meeting is an example of direct, almost Athenian, democracy in which everyone is, in theory, allowed to speak, and to present proposals or counter-proposals on matters brought before the town. De Tocqueville does not seem, in the sections under consideration, to pay particular attention to Southern towns, or Southern government.
Rather than extended essay on de Tocqueville, I've made up an anthology of quotes from the Library of America edition of Democracy in America, and I want to ask questions about their truth, and about their applicability to today.
“A great democratic revolution is taking place among us. Everyone sees it, but not everyone judges it in the same way. There are those who regard it as something new and, believing it to be an accident, still hope to arrest it, while others deem it irresistible because in their view it is the oldest, most continuous, most permanent fact known to history.”This was written before the revolutions of 1848, but after the American and French revolutions. I think de Tocqueville is here addressing those who consider power to flow from the top down, the More of Utopia, or the theorists of the Divine Right of kings, who saw power as flowing from God to the king to the nobility, and those who saw power as arising from the people who move from a state of nature to government. Locke, and possibly Rousseau being in the latter group of theorists. How does this play out in modern American politics? The former group would seem to be represented in those who regard the state as the origin of our rights. While the latter group is more focused on the individual, and resists the encroachment of state authority.
“In my view they should hasten to invoke the aid of religion, for they must know that without morality freedom cannot reign and without faith there is no basis for morality.” De Tocqueville is not of the opinion that atheists can be moral people. He roots morality in faith. Current opinion, at least among the elites, is that morality is possible without God. My own observations, however, tell me that Christians and atheists are alike in being messed up, imperfect, but at least the Christian knows that he's messed up and imperfect.
I don't want to get into a lengthy discussion here of the source of morality, but it seems to me that without a metaphysical component to morality you wind up with an ethics that's pretty much like the Anglican church, capable of justifying anything.
“The immigrants who settled in America at the beginning of the seventeenth century somehow separated the democratic principle from all the other principles with which it had to contend in the old societies of Europe and transplanted it alone to the shores of the new world. There it could mature under conditions of liberty and, because it advanced in harmony with mores, develop peacefully within the law.” The point here seems to be that immigrants were cut off from the old societies of Europe, and were free to develop without pressure from their original society. The democratic principle developed along with other moral customs so that they became intertwined.
“In countries whose laws provide for equal partition, property, and especially landed wealth, necessarily has a permanent tendency to shrink. If the law were left to its own devices, however, the effects of such legislation would become apparent only over the long run. For to the extent that families consist of no more than two children (and the family average in a country populated like France is said to be just three), the children, sharing the wealth of their father and mother, will not be poorer than each parent individually.” The point here is that property, when it is not bound over to a single heir, becomes sub-divided atomistically so that after time the property belonging to any individual from that family becomes infinitesimal. Obviously, capable heirs can expand their fortunes, but heirs are not always as capable as their progenitors, so fortunes will become dispersed. The dispersal of the fortune will be reflected in the declining influence of the family. We can see examples of this in the Rockefeller, Vanderbilt, and Kennedy families. The ablest accumulators of wealth, the ones who founded the fortunes, are dead, and whatever political influence the families wield has been passed on to successively less talented politicians.
“Among peoples whose law of inheritance is based upon primogeniture, landed estates ordinarily pass undivided from generation to generation. As a result, the family spirit in a sense becomes materialized in the earth. The family represents the land; the land represents the family. The land perpetuates the family’s name, its origins, its glory, its power, and its virtues. It is an imperishable witness to the past and a precious guarantee of continued existence.” This is in line with what I said about the preceding quote.
“Not that there are no wealthy people in the United States, just as there are everywhere. Indeed, I know of no other country where the love of money occupies as great a place in the hearts of men or where people are more deeply contemptuous of the theory of permanent equality of wealth. But wealth circulates there with incredible rapidity, and experience teaches that it is rare for two successive generations to garner its favors.” Again think of the fortunes of the Rockefellers. The fortune has been distributed among a succession of heirs, not all of them well known, but the family's influence in economics and politics has declined. The Kennedy family exerts no significant economic influence. Steve Jobs left his fortune to his wife and children, while the man running Apple is Tim Cook. Bill and Melinda Gates are in the process of distributing the Gates billions to their charities. The great American fortunes rise and fall and flow from person to person through the generations as de Tocqueville says.
“In America, few people are wealthy. Almost all Americans therefore need to practice a profession. Now, every profession requires a period of apprenticeship. Americans can therefore afford to devote only the first few years of life to the general cultivation of the intelligence. At fifteen they embark on a career. Thus their education usually ends at the time of life when ours begins. If it continues beyond that period, its aim becomes exclusively specialized and lucrative. One studies a science as one takes up a craft, and one takes from it only those applications whose present utility is recognized.” This has changed since the 1830s. During that time period it was possible to enter some professions, such as the law, through non-academic routes. Abraham Lincoln, for example, read the law with another lawyer. The 1890s saw the American Bar Association (founded 1878) urge the states to require formal education in lieu of the apprenticeship involved in reading law. Other professions also pressed for formal education, so the apprenticeship pattern mentioned by de Tocqueville has almost vanished. As the demand for higher education increased, particularly in the period after WW II the US has moved towards the more European model de Tocqueville describes. One result of this is a prolongation of adolescence, so that you have people in their twenties and thirties living at home rather than establishing independent residences and families. A further result is that because marriage is delayed their is a lower birth rate among the more highly educated members of society.
“Now, I know of only two ways to achieve the reign of equality in the world of politics: rights must be given either to each citizen or to none.” The French Revolution achieved equality by cutting off the heads of both the high and the low. American society achieves equality not through redistributing income or soaking the rich but by providing an environment in which the poor can move up to the middle class; the middle class can move into the upper class, and the upper class can ruin itself by going into politics.
“But one also finds in the human heart a depraved taste for equality, which impels the weak to want to bring the strong down to their level, and which reduces men to preferring equality in servitude to inequality in freedom.” Nietzsche would term this ressentiment, that feeling of envy that prompts one to destroy what to many is an object of admiration. You find this in people who key your new car. They see a pretty, shiny object, one which they cannot have, and they try to deprive you of the quiet, generally innocent, pleasure of possessing an object of beauty, and so they mark it up. They simultaneously claim it as their own, and deny you your right to it. In the political realm you see this in the resentment of the rich. One taxi driver in London said of someone who had a fortune of $7 billion that it wasn't right. But why? Someone else's possession of a fortune doesn't harm me, not directly, unless they got it by defrauding me. If someone owns a Ferrari, I might have a wistful moment of envy, and wish that I had a Ferrari, but I wouldn't derive any pleasure from denying him his Ferrari. It might even prompt me to work hard so that I could have one. But dragging the poor guy down, impoverishing him because somehow it's not fair for him to have what I can't have, that's nothing but brute force. Unfortunately, that brutishness is embraced by many.
“Of all the forms of liberty, that of local government, which is so difficult to establish, is also the most vulnerable to the encroachments of power. Left to themselves, local institutions are scarcely capable of combating a strong and enterprising government. If they are to defend themselves successfully, they must be fully mature and fully integrated into national ideas and habits. Unless local independence has become a part of a nation’s mores, it is easily destroyed, and it can become a part of a nation’s mores only after it has been embodied for a considerable length of time in law.” In the aftermath of Katrina we saw people crying out about FEMA and the lack of response on the part of the Bush administration, and yet it was the local institutions that failed. Mayor Nagin refused to use idle school buses to evacuate residents from New Orleans, and Governor Blanco refused to cooperate with the Feds. In the aftermath of Sandy we are seeing that the government agencies most distant from the scene are misallocating resources, or failing to distribute resources in a timely manner. The citizens are complaining, and some local governments, such as NYC, are forced to reallocate resources so that actual needs are met. It's a fair question to ask whether these local institutions have, through their reliance on the Federal government, lost or surrendered their independence.
“Yet it is at the local level that the strength of a free people lies. Local institutions are to liberty what elementary schools are to knowledge; they bring it within reach of the people, allow them to savor its peaceful use, and accustom them to rely on it. Without local institutions, a nation may give itself a free government, but it will not have a free spirit. Fleeting passions, momentary interests, or chance circumstances may give it the outward forms of independence, but despotism repressed within the body of society will eventually resurface.” It's sometimes said that real politics is local politics. The politicians in DC can affect me on tax day, and may cause misery, but it is the local pols and the assorted miscreants on the local level who have the most direct and intimate effect on me.
“He obeys society, not because he is inferior to those who rule it, or less capable of governing himself than anyone else, but because union with his fellow men seems useful to him, and because he knows that such union cannot exist without a regulatory power.” This is a re-iteration, I think, of basic social contract theory.
“In everything to do with the duties of citizens to one another, he has therefore become subject. In everything that regards himself alone, he remains master. He is free and owes an account of his actions only to God.” Has this changed since the 19th century? Does the interference of HHS in telling me what kind of health insurance I am obligated to provide represent an interference in those things for which I am accountable only to God?
“The presidency is a high office seldom achieved by anyone not well advanced in age. When a person accedes to other high federal offices, it is in a sense by luck and comes only after celebrity has been achieved in some other career. Ambition cannot settle on such offices as its one and only goal.” And yet we see today a man who has had no other goal than to become President. A man of minimal competence, and yet with an overwhelming opinion of himself backed up by toadies in the press.
“In the United States people rightly believe that love of country is a form of religion to which people become attached through practicing it.” I've already commented on this at the start of this post.
“The revolution in the United States was the result of a mature, reflective preference for liberty and not a vague, indefinite instinct for independence. It did not depend on the passions of disorder. On the contrary, it demonstrated love of order and legality as it went forward.” The Declaration is structured as a legal pleading, a piece of oratory that sets forth a view of the law and of the relations of the United States and Britain. It's not the document of a rabble rouser, but one of a calm, though impassioned man, who seeks to justify his actions, and those of his fellows, in terms that accord with natural law.
“In the United States, therefore, it was never claimed that man in a free country has the right to do whatever he pleases. Indeed, the range of social obligations imposed on him was wider than in other countries. The idea was not to attack the power of society at its source and to challenge its rights; instead, people confined themselves to dividing the exercise of that power. In so doing, they wanted to ensure that authority would be great and the official small, so that society would continue to be well regulated and remain free.” The idea is encapsulated in the division of powers. The three branches of government are supposed to exist in what might be described as a state of “ldquo;fruitful tension.” No branch should be dominant, and no branch should be prone to imperial excesses. During the Nixon administration, when Nixon personally designed the much derided uniforms for the White House police, his was regarded as an imperial presidency. The expansion of executive power has continued since that time, and we now have a president who is frequently mocked for his L'etat c'est moi pose.
More to the point even than that pertaining to narcissistic presidents is that on the local level the individual politician is also small. We've all seen the movies and TV shows that feature corrupt politicians and political bosses. I think de Tocqueville's point here, as applied to local politics, is that while the authority of the office is great, the individual politician should be a more or less transient phenomenon, not an entrenched hack.
“Mark this well: an elective power that is not subject to a judicial power sooner or later escapes all control or is destroyed.” De Tocqueville makes much of judicial supremacy and the ability of the courts to declare laws unconstitutional. That power had been exercised only once previously, in Marbury v. Madison, at the time of de Tocqueville's writing.
“To divide legislative power, thus to slow the movement of political assemblies, and to create an appellate tribunal for revision of the laws — such are the only advantages that result from the present constitution of the two houses in the United States.” Again a statement in favor of judicial review.
“To be sure, administrative centralization can gather all of a nation’s available forces at a specific time and place, but it impedes the reproduction of those forces. It ensures the nation’s victory on the day of battle but over the long run diminishes its might. It can therefore contribute admirably to the passing grandeur of one man but not to the enduring prosperity of an entire people.” I don;t think this is primarily about the military. The argument is over the ability of the nation to marshall its forces in a concerted effort. The exertion whether for a short period, after a flood, or a prolonged effort, the Civil War, or WW II, is followed by a more or less quiescent period.
“No central power, no matter how enlightened or intelligent one imagines it to be, can by itself embrace all the details of the life of a great people. It cannot, because such a labor is beyond human strength. If it tries to build and operate such a complex machine on its own, it will either content itself with something far short of its goal or exhaust itself in futile efforts.” This stands in marked contrast to the bureaucratic types who imagine that they can regulate affairs such as carbon consumption, fuel efficiency, oil and gas production, food production, food distribution, income, health care, and all the myriad things that make up modern life. A complex bureaucracy winds up destroying the very things that enabled it to come into existence in the first place. I think we can see this playing out in Greece, and in Europe as a whole.
“What good does it do me, after all, if an ever-watchful authority keeps an eye out to ensure that my pleasures will be tranquil and races ahead of me to ward off all danger, sparing me the need even to think about such things, if that authority, even as it removes the smallest thorns from my path, is also absolute master of my liberty and my life; if it monopolizes vitality and existence to such a degree that when it languishes, everything around it must also languish; when it sleeps, everything must also sleep; and when it dies, everything must also perish?” Mayor Bloomberg anyone?
“The Turkish populations never took any part in directing the affairs of society, yet they accomplished great things as long as they saw the sultans’ conquests as triumphs for the religion of Mohammed. Today, the religion is vanishing, and only the despotism remains: the result is collapse.” This observation may have had some truth in it back in 1835, but it does not seem to be true in Turkey today where Islamism is on the rise.
“In the United States, patriotic sentiment is pervasive. Whether at the village level or at the level of the Union as a whole, the public interest is a matter of concern. People care about their country’s interests as though they were their own. They glory in the nation’s glory. In its successes they see their own work and are exalted by it. They rejoice in the general prosperity, from which they profit.” This may no longer be true. See Obama's apology tour at the beginning of his reign.
“Suppose a person conceives of an idea for a project that has a direct bearing on the welfare of society. It would never occur to him to call upon the authorities for assistance. Instead, he will publicize his plan, offer to carry it out, enlist other individuals to pool their forces with his own, and struggle with all his might to overcome every obstacle. No doubt his efforts will often prove less successful than if the state had acted in his stead. In the long run, however, the overall result of all these individual enterprises will far outstrip anything the government could do.” Steve Jobs succeeded without any help from the government. Chrysler, GM, and Solyndra haven't exactly been major successes since taking their hats in hand and going to the great, good, and benevolent Wizard of DC. Sadly this observation seems to be falling into abeyance.
“In Europe, the criminal is an unfortunate who is fighting to save his head from agents of the government. The people are merely onlookers in this contest. In America, he is an enemy of the human race and has all humanity against him.” Not quite sure if this is true or not. There is certainly a lot of interest in some criminal cases, and some have received an enormous amount of publicity, whether or not all of humanity is against him, I'm not sure.
“As long as a law does not give rise to a dispute, the judicial power has no reason to concern itself with that law. The law exists, but the judicial power takes no notice of it.” It's popular to deride activist judges, but judges can only make rulings in cases before them, so their activism is necessarily limited. Of course, once a case comes before a judge, if he is inclined to activism, or takes in junk science, he can issue decisions that reshape the political landscape. It's arguable that Taney and his fellow Supremes acted as activists when they overturned the Missouri Compromise of 1820 in Dred Scott v. Sandford. One of the two dissents in that case in fact argued that once they decided that Scott lacked standing to file, because he was not a citizen, they should have stopped there. The decision to proceed with the dismantling of the compromise of 1820 would be, in this view, an activist decision.
“When a judge attacks a law pertinent to a case that lies before him, he expands his prerogatives but does not step outside his proper sphere, because in a sense he must judge the law in order to judge the case. If, however, he were to pronounce on the law irrespective of any case that lay before him, he would step outside his sphere altogether and encroach upon that of the legislative power.” Here I think de Tocqueville is addressing something that I don't think happens, when a judge issues a decision and comments on or addresses some law other than the one at issue. It may happen that a judge in the course of speechifying will venture an opinion on some matter, but that doesn't seem to be what is referred to here.
“The source of that power lies in one fact: Americans have granted judges the right to base their decisions on the Constitution rather than on laws. In other words, they have allowed judges not to apply laws they deem to be unconstitutional.” The Lockean vision of government, and one that was embraced by the founders is that power flows from the people to the government. This is recognized in the Bill of Rights in those sections that reserve rights to the state or to the people. It's also recognized in the 2nd Amendment. The language says that a well regulated militia is necessary for the security of a free state, as a consequence the right of the people to bear arms is not to be infringed. But it's not the militia that grants the right, it's the right that precedes the militia and creates an armed citizenry out of which the militia is created. The Constitution, in this theory, fixes the will of the people, and a mere piece of legislation, which can be passed over the opposition of the people, and which can embody a mere passing whimsy, or faulty science, such as the evils of DDT or coal production, cannot be granted permanence in the same way as an Amendment, which reflects the fundamental will of the people.
“In the United States, the Constitution rules legislators as it rules ordinary citizens. It is therefore the primary law, and cannot be modified by a law. Hence it is just for courts to obey the Constitution in preference to all the laws.” This goes to what I just said in the preceding remarks. The Constitution is primary. The rise of legislators who regard the Constitution as a stumbling block means that they will seek ways to get around the Constitution.
“Had the judge been allowed to attack laws in a theoretical and general fashion, had he been permitted to seize the initiative and censure the legislator, his entry onto the stage of politics would have been impressive indeed. As the champion or adversary of one party, he would have invited all the passions that divide the country to join the fray.” When Taney wrote the Dred Scott descision, and when the court issued Roe v. Wade, it's arguable that the court did invite the divisive passions to join the fray.
“The idea that the enlightenment of the majority gives it the right to govern society came to the United States with its first settlers. This idea, which alone would suffice to create a free people, has by now been incorporated into the nation’s mores, and its influence extends to the least significant of life’s daily routines.” De Tocqueville will devote considerable space to discussing the tyranny of the majority, and the steps taken or necessary to protect the rights of the minority.
“The French, under the old monarchy, held fast to the idea that the king could never fail. When he did do wrong, they blamed his advisors. This made it wonderfully easy to obey. One could murmur against the law without ceasing to love and respect the man who made it. Americans take the same view of the majority.” Have we seen this reverence transferred to the current administration? The protection of the current incumbent, including the willful suppression of interviews with him that would harm his re-election seems to indicate that we are entering a period in which certain anointed individuals can get away with transferring blame not to their advisors but to their predecessors, and in which they receive credit for things they never did. (Taking credit for getting Osama bin Laden. That was due to intelligence gathered by the previous administration, and the action was taken by Navy Seals. All the current incumbent did was give the order.)
“The omnipotence of the majority and the rapid and absolute way in which its wishes are carried out in the United States not only make the law unstable but exert a similar influence on the execution of the law and the actions of the public administration.” We see examples of this omnipotence in some of the legislation influenced by a rabble rousing press corps, or by lurid entertainment. For example, The Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 criminalized what had previously been a legal drug. The use of marijuana had been depicted in movies such as Reefer Madness, and its praises sung, quite literally, in the song “ldquo;Sweet Marijuana” from Murder at the Vanities. Now it's arguable whether or not marijuana is a gateway drug to heroin and cocaine, but its implementation is meeting increased resistance, as exemplified in measures legalizing it in one or another in the states. This is the instability that de Tocqueville speaks of above. Or again, another drug, LSD, was the subject of much lurid propaganda in magazines, books, and movies such as Easy Rider and The Trip. Prohibition was another popular movement that was immediately regretted. The instability in its execution was reflected in massive corruption and avoidance of the law, which lasted until its repeal.
“I regard as impious and detestable the maxim that in matters of government the majority of a people has the right to do absolutely anything, yet I place the origin of all powers in the will of the majority. Am I in contradiction with myself?”So how does he resolve this contradiction?
“Therefore, when I refuse to obey an unjust law, I do not deny the majority’s right to command; I am simply appealing from the sovereignty of the people to the sovereignty of the human race.” The contradiction is resolved by appealing from the local and transient majority's wishes to the whole of the human race. Note that he does not make an appeal to a higher power, though de Tocqueville does not seem to be non-religious, he makes a pretty standard plea that invokes humanity as a whole in order to justify what will later come to be known as civil disobedience.
“Therefore, when I see the right and wherewithal to do all accorded to any power whatsoever, whether it be called people or king, democracy or aristocracy, and whether it be exercised in a monarchy or a republic, I say, therein lies the seed of tyranny, and I seek to live elsewhere, under different laws.” Omnipotent governments cause him to relocate to freer environments. He doesn't make an economic point here, but it is notable that places where economic freedom is restricted, such as California, find themselves losing population to freer areas. The same thing will happen in France where higher tax rates and a restrictive economic environment will drive people and money out of France and into other, freer countries.
“What I find most repugnant in America is not the extreme liberty that prevails there but the virtual absence of any guarantee against tyranny.” The Constitution should be a bulwark against tyranny, but it is possible, for a time, to enact tyrannous legislation. While the legislation remains in force it is observed and obeyed, to the detriment of those subject to it. Thus slavery remained in force until 1865. Plessy v. Ferguson remained the law of the land until Brown v. Board of Education 60 years or more later.
“In the United States, the omnipotence of the majority not only encourages legal despotism in the legislator but at the same time favors arbitrariness in the magistrate.” Have their been court decisions that have also been political decisions in which the court followed the whims of the majority? I think there have been.
“ there is in general less independence of mind and true freedom of discussion than in America.” Does de Tocqueville here anticipate political correctness? You cannot say certain things about Islam apparently without spending a year or more in jail on trumped up charges. You can't criticize some people without being called a racist. The parameters of debate are frightfully narrow in terms of what is publicly acceptable. When a candidate used the term “ldquo;legitimate rape,” he probably meant to differentiate between an actual rape and a fraudulently reported rape. There is an unfortunate tendency for loopholes and exceptions to expand over time. When the Commerce clause, for example, was first implemented its use was rather narrow. Over time the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, The Clayton Act, The Pure Food and Drug Act, and all of the other legislation expanded it beyond an possible construction that the founders would have put on it. Any exception, such as rape, or to save the life of the mother, would expand so that the number of abortions performed as the result of a rape claimed at the hospital would exceed the number reported at the police station. Unfortunately, the poor guy had stumblemouth and failed to express this adequately or completely. Since he was unable to do this, he should have left it alone so as not to provoke non-sensical charges about a “ldquo;war on women."
“Tyranny in democratic republics does not proceed in the same way, however. It ignores the body and goes straight for the soul. The master no longer says: You will think as I do or die. He says: You are free not to think as I do. You may keep your life, your property, and everything else. But from this day forth you shall be as a stranger among us. You will retain your civic privileges, but they will be of no use to you.” Is this applicable to the restrictions on religious freedom imposed by HHS regulations?
“If America still has no great writers, we need seek no further for the reason: literary genius cannot exist without freedom of spirit, and freedom of spirit does not exist in America.” I know it's inexcusable, but my area of expertise is English literature, not American, so I'm not sure how to respond to this evaluation. Some years back, between 1968 and 1970 I think, I was at some English department meeting where students were questioning the professors. One Black student asked why they didn't study Phyllis Wheatley. I thought I was fairly well read at the time, and remarked to Julie, who was sitting next to me, that I'd never heard of the woman. Julie hadn't heard of her either. Now I have to confess that I tend to regard some writers and artists as being over-valued, particularly by academics, if they belong to a favored group. For example, Charlotte Perkins Gilman (crazy female), Anne Sexton, Sylvia Plath, Virginia Woolf (crazy females who commit suicide) are all members of an oppressed class (women) who demonstrate their oppression through either insanity or suicide. Accordingly their poetry or novels are evaluated independently of any literary quality. Phyllis Wheatley, as a black female during the era of slavery scores a home run on the basis of sex/gender, race, and servitude.
Most of the American poets and writers that one reads in the course of the average American high school education (Bryant, Hawthorne, Poe, et alia) began publishing around the time of the publication of Democracy in America, so de Tocqueville wasn't acquainted with the literary and artistic explosion that lasted until the middle of the 20th century.
Is it possible that the spirit of political correctness will inhibit artistic expression? I think that the quality of literature, music, and the arts generally has declined considerable since the end of the Beat era. While some performers from that era, Dave Brubeck for one, are still around, they are aging and their best performances are behind them. I can't get turned on by the suicidal females, and don't read contemporary poetry. I pretty much stop at e. e. cummings and the Beats. Contrary to the mythology that characterizes the 1950s as a repressive era, the evidence in movies and literature is that they were a time of robust questioning, non-conformity, and a struggle over real, meaningful questions.
“Some governments seek to safeguard mores by condemning the authors of licentious books. In the United States, no one is condemned for such works, but no one is tempted to write them — not because all the citizens are pure, but because the majority are sober in their ways.” I don't think he meant abstemious from alcohol. I do think that he meant that we didn't spend our children's money in the hopes that our great-grandchildren would pay off the debt.
“The steadily increasing effect of the despotism of the majority is, I believe, the chief reason for the small number of remarkable men in American politics today.” The last politician that I actually liked was Bobby Kennedy, and he died in 1968. I think the current incumbent's much touted charisma and likeability is largely manufactured. He's physically unattractive with oversized ears, a horsey face, and a lousy gait. He points his finger in my face, tilts his head up as if he's superior, and presumes to lecture me on my faults. His losing opponent was better looking, had a more attractive wife, whom we loved enough to have more than the politically desirable one or two children with, and was more inclined to actual charity. I'm afraid that while some pols have claimed charisma they leave me looking at them with the same expression that I have when I see the Austrian politician who led Germany. How could anybody have followed that clown? How can anybody follow the more recent clowns. So I'm afraid that I agree about the lack of remarkable men in current American politics, though I'm not sure of its cause.
“Among the droves of men with political ambitions in the United States, I found very few with that virile candor, that manly independence of thought, that often distinguished Americans in earlier times and that is invariably the preeminent trait of great characters wherever it exists.” Agreed.
“I have heard Americans speak of their homeland. I have met with true patriotism among the people; I have often searched for it in vain among their leaders. This fact is easily understood by analogy: despotism corrupts the person who submits to it far more than the person who imposes it. In absolute monarchies, the king often has great virtues, but the courtiers are always vile.” This election marked one of the few times in which none of the candidates had prior military experience. Run through the current crop of cabinet secretaries and congresscritters. How many do you think are devoted to their country over their own careers?
“Anarchy is almost always a consequence of tyranny or incompetence rather than impotence.” Tyranny, in the context that de Tocqueville is taling about here, is the tyranny over the minority. How is this reflected in current practices and policies>
“If America ever loses its liberty, the fault will surely lie with the omnipotence of the majority, which may drive minorities to despair and force them to resort to physical force. This may lead to anarchy, but to an anarchy that will come as a consequence of despotism.” I think he was talking about slavery and the states' attitudes toward slavery. Is this playing out in current times? Is the HHS issuing regulations that deny religious freedom? Will this culminate in a tyranny, even if the culmination is 50 years, or more, down the road?
“If the ruling power in America possessed both these means of government and enjoyed not only the right to issue orders of all kinds but also the capability and habit of carrying out those orders; if it not only laid down general principles of government but also concerned itself with the details of applying those principles; and if it dealt not only with the country’s major interests but also descended to the limit of individual interests, then liberty would soon be banished from the New World.” In the 1830s the EPA, HUD, FEMA, FDA, FRS, FCC, SEC, FBI, DEA, ATF, Fannie Mae, Ginnie Mae, Sallie Mae, DOE, FDIC, SLIC, and the rest of the alphabet soup agencies did not exist. As the bureaucratic state has grown and metastasized has there been more or less freedom, more or less happiness? Considering that executions now take place without the formalities of arrest, arraignment, trial, and sentencing, it would seem that some people have significantly less freedom. Given the growth of the regulatory state, and of nanny-statism that regulates the salt on your table but fails to keep saltwater out of your basement, I'd say that there's considerably less freedom that in 1830 when de Tocqueville made his tour.
“There is infinitely more natural affinity between men of law and executive power than between men of law and the people, though lawyers often have to topple executive power.” In short, lawyers like to screw people.
“Our written laws are often difficult to understand, but anyone can read them. By contrast, there is nothing more obscure to the uninitiated, nothing less within their grasp, than a body of law based on precedent. The need for lawyers in England and the United States, together with the exalted idea that attaches to their enlightened way of thinking, increasingly sets them apart from the people and in the end places them in a class all their own. The French lawyer is merely a man of learning, but the English or American man of law in some ways resembles an Egyptian priest. Like the priest, he is the sole interpreter of an occult body of knowledge.” Sometimes even lawyers can't understand the trash that other lawyers turn out. During the arguments on Obamacare one justice said that reading the law was cruel and unusual punishment.
“The more one reflects on what goes on in the United States, the more convinced one becomes that the legal profession is the most powerful, if not the only, counterweight to democracy.” The people leading the US into tyranny have been lawyers.
“There is virtually no political question in the United States that does not sooner or later resolve itself into a judicial question.” Slavery became a judicial question in the Dred Scott case. Abortion became judicial in Roe v. Wade. Segregation became judicial in the Plessy and Brown cases. The gentle may reader may decide for himself what other cases have had judicial resolutions of political questions.
“To regard the jury simply as a judicial institution would be to take a notably narrow view, for if the jury has a great influence on the outcome of a trial, it has an even greater influence on the fate of society itself. Hence the jury is first and foremost a political institution and must always be judged as such.” This is not just about questions such as jury nullification, but the seriousness with which the jurors view their duty. I'm convinced that the jury shirked its duty in the O. J. Simpson murder trial, and that this signalled the start of an era of racial divisiveness and bitterness. You can find other examples of inexplicable verdicts in recent history, and they point to a decline in the seriousness with which our institutions are viewed.
“Laws are always shaky unless they are supported by mores. Mores are the only robust and durable power in any nation.” Prohibition was almost universally disobeyed once it was instituted. California, Colorado, and other states allow Marijuana use in contravention of federal laws that outlaw its use. I was drinking martinis at 19 when the legal drinking age was 21. (I wasn't carded, so I didn't use a fake ID.) The mores don't support many laws, and they are ignored making many of us felons. However, this generates disrespect for the law in itself.
“The Americans have no neighbors, hence no need to fear major wars, financial crises, invasions, or conquests.” Not quite true, even 1830. The US was invaded in 1812, got into a shooting match with Mexico in the 1840s, quelled an insurrection in 1865, got attacked in 1941, in 1993, and in 2001. Of course, the latter two incidents occurred after inventions that de Tocqueville couldn't have foreseen.
“America has no great capital whose direct or indirect influence is felt throughout the country. I consider this to be one of the primary reasons for the persistence of republican institutions in the United States.” It may have been true in 1830; it's not true now.
“When the people govern, it is essential that they be happy lest they overthrow the state. Misery does to the people what ambition does to kings. In America, the material causes of prosperity — independent of the law — are more numerous than they have ever been in any other country at any time in the history of the world.” This may be coming to an end. The next four years will be dangerous, and I doubt if the current people can deal with it.
“In Europe, we are in the habit of looking upon restlessness of spirit, immoderate desire for wealth, and extreme love of independence as great social dangers, but these are precisely the things that guarantee the American republics a long and tranquil future.” We last set foot on the moon in 1972. We can kiss our “restlessness of spirit” and all of those other qualities good bye. We're now a nation of dependents waiting for big daddy to provide us with free meals, condoms, and abortions.
“Three things seem to contribute more than all others to the persistence of the democratic republic in the New World: The first is the federal form that the Americans have adopted, which allows the Union to enjoy the power of a great republic and the security of a small one. The second I see in local institutions, which not only moderate the despotism of the majority but also foster a taste for liberty among the people and teach them the art of being free. The third is to be found in the constitution of judicial power. I have shown how much the courts serve to correct the aberrations of democracy and how, without ever thwarting the impulses of the majority, the courts are able to slow them down and guide them.” When the federal courts asserted authority to determine in cases such as Griswold and Roe what should have been purely political issues, the authority of the individual states to regulate medical practice within their territory, it is arguable that an erosion of federalism and of the federal system took place. By establishing out of whole cloth rights which had never been known before, the courts eroded the line between the local and the federal and enhanced the federal over the local. This diminishes that power that de Tocqueville describes as that of a ” &small republic,” effectively making it even smaller. When the federal courts decided that states could not apportion one house of their legislature on a basis other than population, they negated the federal principle. When the federal courts oversee the election process in the Southern states, they negate the federal principle.
In the aftermaths of Katrina and Sandy there was an outcry over the non-performance of FEMA. But FEMA is a a distant federal agency that operates out of the swampy wasteland that is Washington, D.C. They have no idea what to do in the event of an actual emergency. They can't be trusted to pre-position bottled water, or to deliver generators to gas stations so that the gas stations can pump gasoline out of their storage tanks. The institutions that were and are capable of delivering are the local institutions that are closer to the problem. Sadly, the people believe that distant, impersonal Washington, and an aloof, arrogant, incompetent president are going to save them. So de Tocqueville's second point seems to be fading away.
As for the third point, about the courts, that point too seems to be on the verge of being abrogated. Kelo allowed the states to take property and to turn it over to another private organization on the promise that it would raise revenues. Now what is a promise? At worst it is nothing but words, vibrations in air. If it's written, it's scrawls on a piece of paper. But is it worth anything? If I promise to pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today, will you trust me? In both cases the answer is no. The courts also decided that Obamacare is a tax. Now the administration called it a penalty, but the court, for some reason, decided that it wanted to preserve the bloated monstrosity that is Obamacare, and called it a tax. So are the courts, which may well be packed in the future, still bulwarks against the excesses of democracy, or are they judicial agents of change?
“It is a mistake, in my view, to regard the Catholic religion as a natural enemy of democracy. Of the various Christian doctrines, Catholicism seems to me, on the contrary, among those most favorable to equality of conditions. For Catholics, religious society consists of just two elements: the priest and the people. Only the priest stands above the faithful: below him, everyone is equal.” I'm not sure if this still holds. In the wake of Vatican II we've seen the emergence of the Cafeteria Catholic, the Dissident Catholic, and last but not least the Ignorant Faithful Catholic, the latter being represented by certain well-known pols (Pelosi, Biden, Kennedy). These groups pretty much go their own way without regard to the pronouncements of pope, bishop, or priest, and have no idea what the magisterium is.
“Each worships God in its own way, but all preach the same morality in God’s name. Though it matters a great deal to each individual that his religion be true, this is not the case for society. Society has nothing to fear from the other life, and nothing to hope for, and what matters most to it is not so much that all citizens profess the true religion as that each citizen profess some religion.”In areas and regions that are in decline in terms of economic, political, and military power and influence, Britain, Western Europe, you see a decline in church attendance, and a rise in statism and liberalism. Does de Tocqueville suggest, as I think he does, that religion is a formative influence on society, and that its vigor is reflected in the life and vigor of society?
“I stated earlier that American priests, including those who do not advocate religious liberty, generally favor civil liberty. They do not, however, support any particular political system. They are careful to remain aloof from public affairs and do not involve themselves in the machinations of the parties. Therefore one cannot say that religion in the United States influences the laws or the specifics of political opinion, but it does shape mores, and it is by regulating the family that religion endeavors to regulate the state.” Dan Quayle got ridiculed for saying that Murphy Brown set a bad example by saying that it was okay to bear illegitimate children, and yet illegitimacy has been on the increase since he said it. Along with that is an increase in the various social ills associated with broken homes. The increase in single parent homes has meant an increase in the welfare roles, an increase in daycare as a substitute for parental care, and an increase in delinquency.
“Although religion cannot moderate his ardor for riches, which everything conspires to arouse, it nevertheless reigns supreme over the soul of woman, and it is woman who shapes mores. Of all the countries in the world, America is surely the one in which the marriage bond is most respected, and in which people subscribe to the loftiest and most just ideal of conjugal happiness.” Has feminism been good for the country? I raised the question a few years back, and suggested that because feminism says that the accused, in instances of sexual harassment, and other pseudo-offenses, is guilty by virtue of the accusation, we have become essentially an apologetic nation. Not in the sense of apologetics as a reasoned defense of one or more beliefs, but apologetic in the sense of constantly accusing ourselves of faults and imaginary offenses. Politically it appears to have reached its zenith in Obama's presidency and his inaugural apology tour. Although another peak is the inanity of blaming the events in Benghazi on a video, and then incarcerating the poor sap for an additional year. A man not under the thumb of feminist ideology, which is to say a man, and not a metrosexual oaf who moves with all the grace and athleticism of Lamar Latrell, would defend free speech, and tell any creep who riots over insults to his religion to grow a pair and toughen up. A man, and not the aforesaid metrosexual creep would also tell the truth, and not blame a video.*
*Lamar Latrell was the black, gay character in Revenge of the Nerds.As it is, the adoption of feminism has proven deleterious to mores. While it is not true that 50% of marriages end in divorce, it is true that more people get divorced, and that the percentage of people having children out of wedlock is higher, and that adultery is more common, even in women, than it was 20, 30, or more years ago.*
It is frequently said that 50% of marriages end in divorce. That's not true. What is true is that the number of marriages in a year is double the number of divorces. Divorces may occur among people who have been married less than a year, 1 year, 5 years, or any number of years, so only a very small number of people get married and divorced in the same year.
“Although religion in the United States never intervenes directly in government, it must be considered as the first of America’s political institutions, for even if religion does not give Americans their taste for liberty, it does notably facilitate their use of that liberty.” The institutions that actually work in this country are the private schools, mostly church supported, or non-denominational private schools; church run charities, or similar institutions. The ones that don't work are largely public.
“Despotism can do without faith, but liberty cannot. Religion is much more necessary in the republic they advocate than in the monarchy they attack, and most necessary of all in a democratic republic.” As religion declines, so does liberty? Is Europe more or less free as the church attendance, and belief in Christianity has declined?
“The philosophers of the eighteenth century had a very simple explanation for the gradual attenuation of religious belief. Religious zeal, they said, was bound to dwindle as liberty and enlightenment increased. Unfortunately, the facts do not bear this theory out.” This was also the position of many sociologists in the 20th century. That hasn't yet been borne out.
“ I listened to them blast ambition and bad faith in men of all political stripes. But as I listened, I also learned that in God’s eyes no one is damnable for his political views so long as those views are sincere, and that there is no more sin in erring about matters of government than in being mistaken about how to build a house or plow a furrow.” It should be possible to disagree about policy without being branded a racist.
“In Europe voices are raised in every quarter to deplore the absence of religious beliefs and to ask how some of the former power of religion might be restored.” Good luck with that.
“America has thus far produced very few remarkable writers, no great historians, and not a single poet. The country’s inhabitants harbor a kind of prejudice against literature proper, and there are third-rate cities in Europe that publish more literary works annually than all twenty-four states of the Union combined.” The production of literature bloomed after de Tocqueville wrote. I'm not sure if we've produced a great historian. Possibly Parkman, though I haven't gotten around to reading him yet. Does any American equal Herodotus, Thucydides, or Gibbon? Poets. I think there have been a fair number of remarkable poets, though I haven't read many post-Beat poets. I think American culture generally is in decline.
“In the United States, therefore, society had no infancy; it was born into manhood.” It was born into manhood because the early settlers brought their institutions and mores ready formed from Europe.
“True enlightenment is primarily the fruit of experience, and if Americans had not gradually become used to governing themselves, their book-learning would not be of much use to them today.” Have we passed from a society that is self-governed to one that is governed?
“But where in the world can one find land more fertile, rivers mightier, or riches more untouched and inexhaustible than in South America? Yet South America cannot support democracy. If, in order for a people to be happy, it were enough to set it down in a corner of the world where it could multiply at will in uninhabited territory, the Spaniards of southern America would have nothing to complain about. Even if they did not achieve the same degree of happiness as the settlers of the United States, they still should have been the envy of the peoples of Europe. Yet no nation on earth is more miserable than the nations of South America.” As far as I know not much has changed in the Southern continent.
“What the word “republic” means in the United States is the slow and tranquil action of society on itself. It is an orderly state truly based on the enlightened will of the people. It is a conciliatory government, whose resolutions ripen slowly, are debated deliberately, and are carried out only when mature.” Has this been true since the 1930s and the Hundred Days? Is it true now?
“If the people’s projects are repeatedly thwarted by constant changes in the law, there is reason to fear that they will ultimately come to regard the republic as an inconvenient way of living in society. The harm done by instability in the secondary laws would then call the existence of fundamental laws into question and lead indirectly to a revolution; but that time still lies far in the future.” I don't think we've quite reached the instability described here.
“The inhabitants of the United States constitute a great, civilized nation that fortune has located in the midst of wilderness, twelve hundred leagues from civilization’s heartland. America therefore has daily need of Europe. In time, Americans will no doubt be able to produce or manufacture most of what they need for themselves, but the two continents will never be able to live entirely independent of each other. Too many natural links exist among their needs, ideas, habits, and mores.” And yet there was a time in this century when people though that 1,200 leagues of separation guaranteed our isolation from the troubles of Europe.
“Left to itself, Europe managed to pierce the darkness of the Middle Ages by its own efforts. South America is Christian, like us. It has our laws and customs. It bears within itself all the seeds of civilization that developed within the nations of Europe and their offspring. And South America also has something that we do not: our example. Why should it always remain barbarous?” One answer that I've seen is that SA has failed because it does not have the same respect for property rights.
“Even if the South became independent of the states of the North, it would not be able to do without them. I said earlier that the South is not commercial. There is as yet nothing to indicate that it will become so.” The post-Civil War South saw an increase in industrial development, but more recent years have seen an increase in technological businesses in parts of Virginia, North Carolina, and other Southern states. How well equipped is the modern North to survive without the South?
“Reason suggests, and experience proves, that no commercial greatness can last unless it can ally itself, if need be, with a military power. This truth is understood as well in the United States as anywhere else. The Americans are already capable of enforcing respect for their flag. Soon they will be in a position to make it feared.” The ability to dominate and effectively control the sea lanes means that commerce can be protected and that power can be projected over great distances. The question that we face now is whether we have a sufficiently strong military to protect our commerce, and to project power. Cuts to the military can be preludes to disaster and can permit the acquisition of power by the wrong people. Allied disarmament, and reliance on soft power led directly to WW II. Disarmament after WW II was immediately greeted with the Berlin blockade, and shortly after that with Korea. Current threats to the military budget do not augur well for the future.
“Hence the New World is in fact shared today by only two rival races, the Spanish and the English. The boundaries that are supposed to separate these two races have been fixed by treaty. Yet no matter how much that treaty may favor the Anglo-Americans, I have no doubt that they will soon violate it.” I'm not going to get involved with arguing about the ins and outs of the annexation of Texas (1845), or the Mexican war (1846-8), but we did invade Mexico and take over territory.
“The land of the New World belongs to whoever occupies it first, and empire is the prize in that race.” De Tocqueville does not seem to consider the American Indians in this statement, but I long ago decided that I would have a bleeding heart over this conquest if the rest of the world would exhibit a bleeding heart over the Trojan conquest.
“Residents of the United States are filtering into Texas daily and acquiring land there, and even as they abide by the region’s existing laws, they are founding an empire there — the empire of their own language and mores. The province of Texas is still under Mexican rule, but before long Mexicans will have vanished, as it were, from the vicinity.” Well Texas left Mexico, but the Mexicans haven't all left Texas.
“Hence there will come a day when North America will be home to 150,000,000 people,100 all equal to one another, all members of the same family, sharing the same point of departure, the same civilization, the same language, the same religion, the same habits, the same mores, and among whom thought will circulate in the same form and take on the same colors. Everything else is doubtful, but this much is certain. And this is something entirely new in the world, the implications of which imagination itself cannot grasp.” The 150 million point was passed about 1960 I believe. The multi-cultis seem bent on seeing that we do not achieve, or that we leave behind the situation described above.
“religion in America has, as it were, set its own limits. The religious order there remained entirely distinct from the political order, so that it was possible to change old laws easily without undermining old beliefs. Christianity has therefore retained a powerful hold on the American mind, and — this is the point I particularly want to emphasize — it reigns not simply as a philosophy that one adopts upon examination but as a religion in which one believes without discussion.” How true is this today?
“If man were forced to prove for himself all the truths of which he daily avails himself, his work would never end. He would exhaust himself in preliminaries and make no progress. Since he has neither the time — because life is short — nor the ability — because his mind is limited — to act this way, he is reduced to accepting as true a host of facts and opinions that he has had neither the time nor the power to examine and verify for himself, but which cleverer men have discovered and the multitude has adopted. It is on this basic foundation that he erects the edifice of his own thoughts. It is not his will that brings him to proceed in this manner; the inflexible law of his condition compels him to do so.” 
“Men who live in ages of equality are therefore not inclined to locate the intellectual authority to which they submit outside and above mankind. Usually they seek the sources of truth in themselves or in their fellow men. This is sufficient, perhaps, to prove that no new religion can be established in such ages, and that any attempt to do so would be not just impious but ridiculous and unreasonable. We may anticipate that democratic peoples will not find it easy to believe in divine missions, that they will be quick to mock new prophets, and that they will want to locate the principal arbiter of their beliefs within the limits of mankind and not beyond.” How quick are we to “mock new prophets,” when a man whose greatest claim to fame is that he was a law review editor sees fit to publish an autobiography at 35, when he has done nothing noteworthy, and who a few years later is proclaimed “The One” on national television by a woman most noted for her pretentiousness, her ego, and her constant struggle with her weight. This same person sees fit to proclaim that the seas will recede, something which King Canute might have taught him not to claim, had he ever heard of King Canute. He then follows this up by claiming that the planet will heal. He goes to Berlin, and stages a triumph, complete with phony Greek temple. And yet this person is revered, showered with the modern equivalent of sainthood, the Nobel prize, and is not mocked.
This alone is sufficient to show that we no longer live in an era of equality as de Tocqueville described it.
“I see two very clear tendencies in equality: one impels each individual toward new ways of thinking, while the other would induce him to give up thinking voluntarily.” We have chosen the second way. Look at the liberal chatterers on TV. Do you see any sign that these guys are thinking independently? They've all surrendered their minds to groupthink.
“And I see how, under the sway of certain laws, democracy might snuff out the intellectual freedom that the democratic social state encourages, so that the human spirit, having smashed all the shackles once placed on it by classes or individuals, would tightly chain itself to the general will of the majority.” Note the use of the phrase of “general will.” We've seen that before, in Rousseau, in which the “general will” becomes the crystallized tyranny of the people. I've said before that this leads to the party representing the people, the central committee representing the party, and the general secretary representing the central committee. The end result is tyranny. The recent election appears to have been decided on the basis of one candidate being “like us,” or understanding us. Oddly there is no evidence that this pampered, spoiled creature, who got by on affirmative action, and who fought on behalf of slum landlords, ever had any contact with the people who work in assembly lines, make pizza, deliver packages, fix cars, or drive tractors. Apparently the people, in their infinite wisdom, believed that he would embody their “general will."
“One of the distinctive characteristics of democratic centuries is a taste for easy successes and instant gratification. This can be seen in intellectual pursuits as well as other areas of life. Most people who live in ages of equality are bursting with an ambition which, while keen, is also lackadaisical. They want to achieve great success instantaneously, but without great effort.” Can anyone say state lotteries? State governments love these because they rig the house percentage, they give the illusion that people can win vast sums, and they generate money without appearing to involve taxation. The reality is that you can't beat the house percentage, you can win vast sums, but they will be taxed by both the state and the feds, and the odds are immensely high. This serves as a substitute for hardwork, savings, and investment. In other words, “great success instantaneously, but without great effort."
“Some religions are palpably false and patently absurd.” I have to admit that I'm not an admirer of either Mormonism or Islam. That didn't mean though that I withheld my vote from the Mormon candidate. We are not permitted, because it is not politically correct, to voice an opinion about the truth or falsity of Islam. Somehow though that doesn't deter Muslims from criticizing Buddhism and destroying age old statues, or from agitating for the destruction of the pyramids and the sphinx. That we cannot debate religion without fear is just another in the list of signs of decline.
“When a people’s religion is destroyed, doubt takes hold of the highest regions of the intellect and half paralyzes all the others. Individuals become accustomed to making do with confused and fluctuating notions about the matters of greatest interest to themselves and their fellow men. They defend their opinions badly or give them up altogether, and because they despair of resolving on their own the greatest problems with which human destiny confronts them, they cravenly cease to think about such things at all.” Has the left's long march through the institutions destroyed religious belief? Church attendance is down, and the number of people who claim to be spiritual but not religious is on the rise. I've seen and talked to London taxi drivers who were more impressive intellectually than the average American voter.
“For my part, I doubt that man can ever tolerate both complete religious independence and total political liberty, and I am inclined to think that if he has no faith, he must serve, and if he is free, he must believe.” Where religious freedom is non-existent is man more or less free? (Cuba, China, Soviet Union vs. US, England, France)
“Mohammed professed to derive from heaven, and placed in the Koran, not only religious doctrines but also political maxims, civil and criminal laws, and scientific theories. By contrast, the Gospels deal only in a general way with man’s relation to God and men’s relations with one another. Beyond that, they teach nothing and oblige one to believe in nothing. Among countless other reasons, that alone is enough to show why the first of these two religions cannot rule for long in ages of enlightenment and democracy, whereas the second is destined to reign in such times as in all others.” Modern liberals like to cite Jesus as some altruistic empath such as Jem or Gem in The Empath episode of ST:TOS. He was no such thing. He nowhere says “Go and sell all that you possess and give it to the IRS so that the local welfare office may distribute it to its clients.” He does not say “Render unto Caesar as much as he may demand of you on his whim to spend on his Aurea Domus.” The Gospels proclaim the death and resurrection of Christ and the salvation of man. Social and political science outside of general admonitions to charity are outside its ken.
“Now more than in the past we see Catholics becoming unbelievers and Protestants turning Catholic. If we look at Catholicism internally, it seems to be losing. If we look outside it, it is winning. There is an explanation for this.” 
“I am inclined to think that the number of such people will be smaller in democratic centuries than at other times, and that our progeny will tend increasingly to fall into one or the other of two categories: those who abandon Christianity entirely, and those who join the Roman Church.” Most of the Protestant churches are losing ground while evangelical and possibly Catholic churches are gaining members. Perhaps this is due to the belief that the mainline churches no longer believe in much of anything.
“In democratic nations, new families are constantly springing from nothing, while others fall, and those who remain change their appearance. The fabric of time is forever being ripped, and vestiges of the generations disappear.” We've discussed this before. There is a constant revolution, and the Vanderbilts, Carnegies, and Rockefellers lose their power and money to be replaced by Jobs, and Gates, and Bezos.
“It is difficult to draw a man out of himself to interest him in the destiny of the entire state, because he has little understanding of what influence the destiny of the state can exert on his lot. Should it become necessary to construct a small road through his property, however, he will see at a glance how this petty public affair relates to his most important private affairs, and he will discover, without having it pointed out to him, the close connection that exists between the particular interest and the general interest.” See the Kelo decision, and my animadversions upon this topic.
“I am bound to say that I have often seen Americans make large and genuine sacrifices to the public good, and I have noted on countless occasions that when necessary they almost never fail to lend one another a helping hand.” This is pre-FEMA. Perhaps it would be a good idea to get rid of FEMA, or at least restructure it so that it helps the people who really help each other.
“It is clear that, as each citizen individually becomes weaker and consequently less capable of preserving his liberty single-handed, either he must learn the art of joining with his fellow men to defend it, or tyranny must increase with equality.” When the ancient Roman went into the garden and chopped all the tall flowers down so that they were the same height as the rest, he set an example for the French revolution, which they implemented at the Place de Concord.Such is how modern liberalism seeks to achieve equality.
“I know that for many of my contemporaries, this is not a problem. They maintain that as citizens become weaker and less capable, government must be made more skillful and active so that society can take upon itself what individuals are no longer capable of doing on their own. In saying this, they believe that they have said all there is to be said on the matter, but in my view they are wrong.” Another statement of the modern liberal position. Note that he deems it wrong.
“The more the social power tries to take the place of associations, the more individuals, losing sight of the idea of associating, will need its help: here, cause and effect engender one another in an endless circle. Will the public administration ultimately control every industrial venture beyond the capabilities of the isolated citizen?” 1/6th of the economy has effectively been nationalized. Other portions are dominated by bureaucrats. Public administration is winning, and we are losing.
“The morals and intelligence of a democratic people would be no less at risk than its business and industry if government were everywhere to take the place of associations.” I worked for a federal agency (GSA, General Services Administration) for 16 years from 1970 till 1986. During that time we would have annual drives for the United Fund, and it was not uncommon to hear people say, “Why should I contribute? There's government programs for that.” In 1976, when Jimmy Carter was running, a co-worker informed me that I was poor, and that Carter would bring in programs that would help me. I did not regard myself as poor, even though I worked at a lousy job for a scumbag agency, and Carter was a failure in every way. What's important though is that even during this time period there was a corrupting influence at work that saw private associations and private charity being displaced by governmental programs. Not necessarily in terms of the national budget, but in the space of the public heart and mind.
“WHEN the world was led by a small number of powerful and wealthy individuals, they liked to conceive of man’s duties in the sublimest of terms. They were pleased to profess that it is glorious to forget oneself and proper to do good without self-interest, like God himself. Such was the official doctrine of the age in the matter of morality.” Again, see Max Weber on the Protestant Ethic.
“American moralists do not hold that a man should sacrifice himself for his fellow man because it is a great thing to do; they boldly assert, rather, that such sacrifices are as necessary to the man who makes them as to the man who profits from them.” Why do firemen run into burning buildings when most of us run away? There are many answers, some of them praiseworthy, some not, but not all of the praiseworthy motives are due to peripherally situated egos, or altruism. There may be a sense of power in confronting and overcoming fire and the primitive emotions associated with it. There may be a belief that in acting for others one acts for oneself. The second may be what de Tocqueville is getting at. The action is necessary because it is tied up in what is characterized throughout Democracy in America as “self-interest properly understood.” In fact we see that given as the reason in the following quote.
“Americans, by contrast, are pleased to explain nearly all their actions in terms of self-interest properly understood. They will obligingly demonstrate how enlightened love of themselves regularly leads them to help one another out and makes them ready and willing to sacrifice a portion of their time and wealth for the good of the state.” Altruism and empathy have been substituted lately for “self-interest properly understood,” but they always seem to resolve themselves into not what I believe is best for me, or what is best for the other party, but what some third party, whose motives may be suspect, declares to be empathetic or altruistic. When a psychiatrist decides that lack of empathy in a surgeon or a businessman is a sign of psychopathy, doesn't he seek to acquire power for himself and for his group? Wouldn't it be more appropriate to judge the actions rather than the emotions? Doesn't the altruist, by defining altruism for others, actually seek to dominate them, and to mold them to his will? When the altruist demands sacrifice from his victims, doesn't he will the state to be all, and the individual nothing? In effect he reduces the free individual to his slave, all for the sake of enforcing his notions of charity and self-sacrifice.
“All things considered, I do not believe that egoism is a worse problem in Europe than in America. The only difference is that there it is enlightened and here it is not. Each American is capable of sacrificing certain of his private interests in order to save the rest. We try to keep a grip on everything, and often it all slips through our fingers.” In the aftermath of Pearl Harbor millions volunteered. In the aftermath of 9/11 thousands volunteered, but unlike WW II we were immediately beset by the forces of political correctness. Unlike WW II we did not formulate and pursue clear war aims. It is questionable whether or not we have progressed in the direction of Europe in the 1830s as described by de Tocqueville.
I said that Amity Shlaes' book The Forgotten Man should be kept by your bedside, and given to your friends. The same goes for Democracy in America.
Next up, the Dred Scott decision and some of Lincoln, and other writers on civil rights.
*Tocqueville, Alexis de; Zunz, Olivier (2012-05-11). Alexis de Tocqueville: Democracy in America: A New Translation by Arthur Goldhammer (Library of America) (Kindle Locations 1271-1272). Library of America. Kindle Edition.
Subsequent citations are given inline by location.